Beijing Bound!

Tomorrow I’m getting on a plane and flying to China. How beyond amazing is that? It is a small and wonderful world, for sure. In a whirlwind week I’m going to have the opportunity to visit schools in several cities, with educators who are interested (among other things) in developing students’ creativity.

But, of course, the chance to go to China has made me reflect again on the relationship between creativity and culture. The most basic of definitions of creativity entails something that is both novel and appropriate. But, of course, neither of those constructs exists in a vacuum. The context in which something is created determines whether it is new and unique or “same old same old”—is it like or unlike the cultural ideas that surround it? Appropriateness, or usefulness, is even more culturally sensitive. There are cultural lines that determine the boundaries between original and bizarre, or between uniquely appropriate and offensive.

I suppose it is not surprising that when I want to learn more about creativity and cultural differences, I find most of the things I read come from writers in business and management. As businesses become increasingly international, managers are facing new challenges for facilitating innovation across cultural groups. In one interesting article, Carsten K. W. De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam reflects on the role of culture in creativity. In addition to cultural definitions of originality and appropriate, he raises additional questions and possibilities. If some cultures value originality over appropriateness/practicality, and some value practicality over originality, how will that affect the ways creativity functions? What about the ways cultures value persistence? Might different cultures get to the same creative results through different paths, or for different reasons?

All these questions make for some interesting dilemmas as I think about what I might have to offer Chinese schools—a culture so very different from my own. Here are some of the things I’m going to wonder as I travel.

  • When Chinese educators say they want their students to be more creative, how do they envision that?
  • What kinds of creativity to they value? What aspects of creativity as I envision it might not be appropriate for them?
  • Do the factors that can depress intrinsic motivation and creativity in western culture, like reward or competition, operate the same way in a more collective culture?
  • If more directive leadership facilitates creativity in Eastern business cultures (Zhou & Su, 2010), might more directive instruction in creativity be particularly effective in Chinese schools?
  • What difficulties might arise in teaching basic creativity strategies to students who have not grown up in a culture that values individuality?

And those are just a beginning. I don’t expect to find answers, but I’m hoping for a beginning. I will report back soon!

De Dreu, C. K. W. (2010) Human creativity: Reflections on the role of culture. Management and Organization Review 6:3 437–446. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-8784.2010.00195.x

Zhou, J. & Su, Y. (2010). A missing piece of the puzzle: The organizational content in cultural patterns of creativity. Management and Organization Review 6:3 391-413.

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